2050 | Geo-Mexico, the geography of Mexico - Part 2

Is Mexico experiencing a demographic dividend?

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Jul 232012

Mexico’s 2010 population of 112 million makes it the world’s 11th largest country in terms of population. The rate of population increase is now slowing down as fertility rates fall. The rate of increase, which was 2.63%/yr for the period 1970-1990, fell to 1.61%/yr for the period 1990-2010.

Even as the total population continues to grow over the next few decades, some very important changes are underway in Mexico’s population structure.

The graph divides Mexico’s population into three age categories: under 15 (youth), 15-59 (working age) and 60+ (elderly).

Mexico's population structure, 1970-2010

Mexico’s population structure, 1950-2010

The percentage of the total population of youthful age peaked in about 1970 at 46.2% and has since fallen to 29.3% in 2010. Over the same time period, the percentage of working age population has risen from 48.2% to 61.6%, while the percentage of elderly has gone from 5.6% to 9.1%.

Why is this important?

Perhaps the most obvious change is that government spending on schools and services for youth needs to shift towards spending on health care, pensions and services for the elderly. There are already some suburbs of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area that have experienced a dramatic shift in average age. Perhaps the most notable example is the Ciudad Satelite area, an area originally intended to be, and planned as, a genuine satellite settlement. A few decades later, the urban expansion of Mexico City had swallowed it up. An area which once had many young families now has very few children. The homeowners association of Ciudad Satelite estimates that 75% of the area’s 50,000 inhabitants is now elderly.

The major benefit of the changing population structure would appear to be that, in 2010, there are more wage-earners (and tax payers) for every person of non-working age (assumed for simplicity to be youth under 15, and the elderly aged 60+) than at any previous time. In other words, the total dependency rate is lower than ever before.

Economists argue that this “demographic dividend” should raise GDP, and could offer many significant advantages, such as enabling greater government expenditures on infrastructure or on social services. They point to several countries in East Asia as examples where economic growth spurts went hand-in-hand with a period of demographic dividend.

Despite the claims of economists, I’m not convinced that Mexico will prove to be an equally good example of the benefits of a demographic dividend. In Mexico’s case, the early phase of higher youthful population (and considerable economic growth) was accompanied by a high rate of emigration of working age Mexicans to the USA. Admittedly, emigration has now slowed, or stopped.

As Aaron Terrazas and his co-authors point out in Evolving Demographic and Human-Capital Trends in Mexico and Central America and Their Implications for Regional Migration [pdf file],

“But across Latin America, and in sharp contrast to East Asia, favorable demographic change has failed to translate into economic growth and prosperity. National income per capita has increased only modestly since the start of the demographic dividend, with Mexico outperforming its southern neighbors at comparable points in time. And emigration from the region has continued to grow despite the demographic transitions in Mexico and El Salvador, with the United States absorbing between one-fifth and one-quarter of the region’s annual population growth.”

Whether or not Mexico experiences a demographic dividend, it will not last for ever. In Mexico’s case, it looks set to last only about about 20 years. By 2050, according to current predictions, about 26.4% of the Mexico’s population will be youthful, and 27.7% elderly, while the percentage of working age will have fallen to 45.9%.

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Aviation history as Mexico’s Aeroméxico uses biofuel for transatlantic passenger flight

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Aug 132011

Aeroméxico, Mexico’s major international airline, made aviation history in July. Aeroméxico flight AM1, from Mexico City to Madrid, was the first ever commercial transatlantic passenger flight using bio-fuel. The Boeing 777 flew on a mixture of biofuel and regular jet fuel. Earlier this year, another Mexican airline, Interjet, began using renewable jatropha-based biofuel for flights between Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutierrez in the southern state of Chiapas. Jatropha is a genus of plants, mainly shrubs, that grow wild in several parts of Mexico, including Chiapas. Plantations of jatropha require four or five years of cultivation before the plant is sufficiently mature for commercial harvesting.

Jatropha-based biofuel is marketed as “green jet fuel” and is currently significantly more expensive than regular jet fuel. However, the price of biofuel is expected to fall rapidly as more of it is produced. The “life-time” emissions from using jatropha (including its growing period, processing and combustion) are estimated to be at least 60% less than using conventional jet fuel.

Sources of biodiesel.

Sources of biodiesel. Credit: Bayer CropScience

Mexico’s aviation sector will need 40 million liters of biofuel a year by 2015 in order to meet the national target of 1% of all airline fuel coming from renewable sources. The aviation industry’s long-term target is to halve its 2005 carbon footprint by 2050.

Despite Mexico’s recent adoption of jatropha-based biofuel, there is considerable controversy about the plant’s real value as a sustainable source of renewable energy. See, for example, the critique “Hailed as a miracle biofuel, jatropha falls short of hype” on Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Mexico’s role in the birth control revolution

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Jun 212011

The oral contraceptive pill, often referred to simply as “the Pill” will be officially sixty years old on October 15, 2011. In the words of The Economist: it “was arguably the first lifestyle drug to control a normal bodily function—fertility—rather than a dread disorder. It transformed the lives of millions and helped reshape the role of medicine in reproduction.” Its social impact was massive, helping to foment the sexual and feminist revolutions.

From a geographic perspective, the Pill coincided with ever-increasing concern about the rate of world population growth, and its impact on resources –  the start of an era which led to such seminal works as The Population Bomb and The Limits of Growth.

Initially, the development of the Pill was met by medical, religious and social furor, much of which has since subsided. Even though its popularity has declined since the 1960s, because of concerns about possible side effects, it is estimated that it is still used, in one form or another, by more than 80 million women worldwide.

Curiously, the synthetic female sex hormone called norethindrone was first synthesized from, believe it or not… Mexican-grown yams!

Equally interestingly, the Pill was not developed in a huge laboratory belonging to a major pharmaceutical company but in a relatively humble laboratory in Mexico City, belonging to a small company called Syntex. Syntex specialized in making steroids from Mexican yams, using methods of synthesis invented by a maverick biochemist, Russell Marker. Marker had published various studies on diosgenin, a saponin isolated from a Mexican yam species of the genus Dioscorea, and had discovered how to synthesize the human hormone testosterone and progesterone from diosgenin. After having his proposals for the large-scale production of human steroids from diosgenin turned down by U.S. pharmaceutical companies, Marker moved to Mexico and began his own, home-based, small scale production. This was so successful that a new company, Syntex, was soon born, specifically to make steroids from Mexican yams. Syntex quickly became the world’s largest producer of progesterone, as well as making testosterone and the female hormone esterone.

Enter Carl Djerassi. Djerassi was an Austrian-born chemist who had completed his PhD at the University of Wisconsin (1945) by researching the synthesis and transformation of steroids, including sex hormones. After working four years as a research chemist with CIBA Pharmaceutical Co. in Summit, New Jersey, he decided on a strategic move, in 1949, to join Syntex, in Mexico City, as associate director of chemical research.

At Syntex, Djerassi set out to see if diosgenin could be made to yield other steroids, which do not actually exist in nature, but which retain the biological activities of progesterone and are also orally active. The original aim of his team was to develop a drug for infertility and menstrual disorders that could be swallowed, as opposed to injected. Only two years later, on October 15, 1951, the group led by the then 28-year-old Djerassi, had synthesized norethindrone, a “super-potent orally active progestational agent”, which turned out to be the key ingredient in The Pill. (Chemically, norethindrone is 17a-ethinyl-19-nortestosterone; its generic name in Europe is norethisterone).

Later, the drug’s ability to suppress ovulation was demonstrated by Gregory Pingus at the Worcester Foundation in Massachusetts and clinical trials began. The rest, as they say, is history!

Djerassi is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University with an extremely distinguished scientific record, holding no fewer than 19 honorary doctorates in addition to numerous other honors. He is also one of only a handful of American scientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (1973, for the first synthesis of a steroid contraceptive, The Pill) and the National Medal of Technology (1991, for promoting new approaches to insect control).

In medicinal chemistry he will be forever associated with the initial developments in the fields of oral contraceptives (Norethindrone), antihistamines (Pyribenzamine) and topical corticosteroids (Synalar).

They say that the well-rounded man combines scientific inquiry with artistic appreciation, and Djerassi is certainly no exception, having turned, in later life, to science fiction writing, examining the human side of scientists and the personal conflicts they face in their quest for knowledge, personal recognition, and financial rewards. One of his plays, “An Immaculate Misconception,” premiered in 1998 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has since been performed in London, San Francisco, Sweden, Vienna and Cologne. It was also broadcast on BBC World Service Radio in May 2000.


The idea for this post originated from a review in The Economist (October 13, 2001) of two books: Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill (Lara Marks, Yale) and This Man’s Pill. Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill. (Carl Djerassi, Oxford University Press).

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss Mexico’s population dynamics and trends, and their implications for future development. An earlier post here links to a pdf file showing Mexico’s population pyramid in 1990, and the predicted pyramid for 2050.

How did Mexico get to be the world’s 11th most populous country?

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Jun 112011

Mexico is currently the world’s 11th most populous country. While it has not always held this position, Mexico has been among the world’s population leaders for the last two thousand years. Worldmapper.org provides data on the estimated population occupying the areas of current countries for various years starting in the year one, when India (62 million) and China (60 million) had more than half of world’s total population of 231 million. No other country had more than eight million. Mexico ranked 17th with an estimated two million inhabitants. According to available data eight countries have always been more populous than Mexico: China, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Pakistan, Japan and Indonesia.

The next data point is the year 1500, when Mexico ranked 13th with an estimated population of seven million. This estimate seems reasonable, though some feel that Mexico’s population might have been as large as 15 million which would have made Mexico the third most populous country on the planet behind only China and India. Between year 1 and 1500, Mexico surpassed Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Iran, and the Ukraine; but was passed by Germany.

Mexico’s total population plunged after the Spanish arrived bringing small pox, other diseases and major social disruption. By 1600, Mexico’s population was down to 2.5 million, but it was still the most populous country in the New World, according to data provided by gapminder.org. It ranked 22nd tied with Austria and behind such countries as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sudan, and Yugoslavia.

In 1700 Mexico’s population was 4.5 million, ranking it 18th. By 1820 the USA had moved past Mexico’s population of 6.6 million to become the most populous country in the New World. Mexico maintained its 19th ranking until 1870 when Brazil surpassed Mexico’s population of 9.2 million to become the most populous country in Latin America. It is interesting that there were relatively few changes in the ranks of the top 20 countries during the 170 year period between 1700 and 1870, except for the USA which went from 40th to 4th.

Since 1870 Mexico’s population has surpassed that of nine different European countries. By 1900 Mexico had 11.7 million inhabitants moving it past Czechoslovakia and Turkey into the 18th spot. (Note that Gapminder population figures are higher than the Mexican census figures, perhaps because they attempted to correct for census under-counting; for the purposes of this analysis we use the Gapminder figures.) Mexico maintained its 18th rank until 1950 when its population of 28.5 million edged it past Spain and war torn Poland into 16th place. In 1970 its population reached 52.8 million putting Mexico in 14th place ahead of France and the Ukraine. By 1980 Mexico’s population of 68.3 million pushed it past Italy and Britain into 12th place. A decade later its population of 84.9 million moved Mexico past Germany into the 11th spot, where it has remained.

What will happen in future decades? Mexico’s position will change, but only slightly. In 2020, Mexico’s population may reach 125 million moving it past Japan into 10th place (Population forecasts for 2020 to 2050 are from the U.S. Bureau of Census). By 2030, Mexico, with a population of about 135 million, will have passed Russia, but fallen behind Ethiopia and the Philippines, putting it back in the 11th spot.

Mexico’s estimated population of 144 million in 2050 will place it 12th behind the Congo (World Population Prospects: the 2010 Revision). According to the United Nations, by 2100 Mexico’s population will decrease to 127 million moving it to the 20th spot, behind Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Iraq, Zambia, Niger, Malawi, and Sudan. Obviously, the accuracy of such a long term forecasts is very speculative. For example, given global climate change and possible food scarcities, some doubt if the sub-Saharan African countries can grow as rapidly during the last half of the 21st century as projected by the United Nations.

Projecting Mexico’s population: when, if ever, will it stop growing?

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May 172011

Between 2000 and 2010, Mexico’s population grew over 15% from 97.362 million to 112.337 million. While this is less than the 20% growth experienced between 1990 and 2000, it is still relatively fast. Will Mexico’s population ever stop growing? To answer such questions, demographers make population projections based on rates of births, deaths and net migration.

The most recent official population projection available from the Mexican Government’s CONAPO (Spanish acronym for National Population Commission) website estimates the Mexican population from 1990 to 2050. It estimates that the population will peak at 130.3 million in 2044 and decline gradually thereafter. This projection is many years old and does not incorporate the data from the 2010 Mexican census nor the impact on immigration of the employment recession in the USA.

In an attempt to get a better handle on Mexico’s future population dynamics until 2050, we conducted a simplified update of the CONAPO projections by using the 2010 census figures, more current net migration figures and adjusted natural population growth rates. Given the uncertain future of job opportunities in the USA for Mexican immigrants, we make the very simple assumption that net immigration from Mexico in the future will remain at 203,000 per year, the most recent figure available. (Pew Hispanic Center, “Mexican Immigrants: How Many Come? How Many Leave?” July 22, 2009, Washington, D.C.) The Pew numbers are limited to net Mexican migration to the USA, but that migration stream represents almost all Mexican migrants.

To obtain the correct 2010 census figure, the CONAPO values for natural population increase need to be upped by about 10%, an increase of only 0.122 percentage points in 2011 (from 1.222% to 1.344%), and progressively less in subsequent years. Using these two adjustments, we estimate that Mexico’s population will peak at 140.5 million in 2047. This is more than ten million more than the original CONAPO projection on 130.3 million.

With higher net emigration, the population peak will be lower and arrive earlier. For example, if net migration is set at 360,000 per year (the average for 2011 through 2050 used in the CONAPO projection, and about 66% of the net migration in 2005 before the recession), the population will peak at 134.5 million in 2043.

Without a doubt, accurate forecasts of net migration are needed for reliable population forecasting. If the CONAPO rate of natural increase is upped by only 5%, (instead of 10%), to 1.283% in 2011, the population will peak at 135.2 million in 2044. The compounding of this change of about one twentieth of one percent results in a change of over five million in Mexico’s eventual peak population.

Until CONAPO, or some other reputable demographic agency, makes a new population projection for Mexico, we can probably safely say only that Mexico’s population will peak at between 135 and 140 million sometime between 2040 and 2050.

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Why did CONAPO underestimate Mexico’s population by almost two million people? Mexico’s changing population dynamics

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May 122011

Making population projections is risky business. Birth and death rate trends can change unexpectedly. Perhaps more difficult to forecast accurately, in Mexico’s case, are international migration rates. The most recent official population projection available from the Mexican Government’s CONAPO (Spanish acronym for National Population Commission) website estimates that the Mexican population will peak at 130.3 million in 2044, before declining gradually thereafter. However, this projection is many years old, and does not incorporate the data from the 2010 Mexican census, nor the impact on immigration of the employment recession in the USA.

CONAPO projected that Mexico’s total population in 2010 would be only 110,619,340, about 1.7 million fewer than the 2010 census figure of 112,336,538. Their estimate for net migration for 2005 to 2009 was 2,012,904, which is quite close to the more recent Pew Hispanic Center figure of 2,036,000 (“Mexican Immigrants: How Many Come? How Many Leave?” July 22, 2009). The Pew numbers are limited to net Mexican migration to the USA, but that migration stream represents almost all Mexican migrants.

However, the two sources have very different values for individual years. The CONAPO net migration projection gradually increased from 400,000 in 2005 to 405,000 in 2009, peaking at 406,000 in 2011 and gradually declining to 303,000 in 2050. The more current Pew estimates reached 547,000 in 2006-2007, before declining to 374,000 for 2007-2008 and only 203,000 for 2009-2009. Current evidence and continued lack of real job opportunities for Mexicans in the USA suggests that net migration has stayed at about this level for the past few years.

The CONAPO projection forecasts that the Mexican rate of natural population increase would decline gradually from 1.39% per year in 2005 to 0.06% per year in 2050. The average of the values they used for 2005 to 2010 was 1.313% per year. Using the actual 2010 census figure and the Pew migration numbers, we calculate that the actual average rate of natural increase for 2005 to 2010 was 1.443%. This suggests that the actual rates of natural increase were about 10% higher than the values used in the CONAPO projection. Apparently, birth rates in Mexico did not decline as fast as expected by CONAPO, consequently their estimate of Mexico’s 2010 population was significantly less than the census figure.

In a later post, we will attempt to update the existing CONAPO projection using the 2010 census figure, more recent net migration values and adjusted natural increase rates.

Mexico’s population keeps growing, but at a slower pace

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May 052011

The 2010 census indicates that since 1960 Mexico’s population has more than tripled to 112.3 million. However, the growth rate between 2000 and 2010 (1.4% per year) is less than half the 3.4% rate of increase experienced in the 1960s. If Mexico’s population had continued to grow at 3.4% since 1960, it would have been over 186 million by now!

Population growth has slowed because the fertility rate has declined dramatically. The total number of children born per women dropped from about 8 in 1960 to 2.9 in 1999 and 2.4 in 2009. It is expected to reach the replacement level of 2.1 by 2010. The fertility rate dropped in the last ten years for women in all age groups. It dropped an impressive 54% for women aged 45 to 49 and 28% for women aged 40 to 45. However, women in these age groups have relatively few babies. Fertility in the prime childbearing age groups; 20 to 24, 25 to 29 and 30 to 35; decreased by 15%, 18% and 15% respectively. The smallest drop was 12% for females ages 15 to 19, suggesting that the incidence of teen pregnancies may remain an issue.

Increased female education is closely linked with fertility reduction. The 2010 census indicates that women with university education had an average of 1.1 children, whereas those who completed secondary school had 1.6 children. Those completing only primary school had 3.3 children, while women with no formal  education had 3.5 children. Because these women may have additional children in the future, these numbers are not directly comparable to the total fertility rates referred to earlier.

With female education levels rising and total fertility rates declining, worries about “overpopulation” in Mexico do not seem warranted at this time. As we have stressed elsewhere, the really significant characteristic of Mexico’s population is no longer how rapidly total numbers are growing, but how rapidly the average age is rising as the population ages. An earlier post here includes a link to a pdf file showing Mexico’s predicted population pyramid for 2050, which shows just how fast Mexico’s population will age if present trends continue. The changing age distribution will require substantial shifts in public services over the next 20-30 years.

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Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss additional insights into Mexico’s population dynamics and trends, and their implications for future development. Buy your copy today!

Mexico introduces a carbon tracking system to monitor its greenhouse gas emissions

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Apr 212011

A recent Scientific American article (15 March 2011) examines Mexico’s newly introduced system to track greenhouse gas emissions. The article, by Saqib Rahim, originally appeared in ClimateWire.

Systems to monitor emissions are essential if countries are to know whether or not they are meeting emissions targets. Mexico’s 2012 goal is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% of their 2000 value. Mexico’s longer-term goal is a decrease of 50% by 2050. Achieving these goals will require massive investments in a range of industries and Mexico hopes that a transparent greenhouse gas accounting system will play an important role in attracting foreign funds.

The system was developed in partnership with Abt Associates, a US consultancy that has contracts with US AID and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Mexican officials insisted that the system must be Internet-based, easy to use, and capable of providing updated reports every few months. Their existing system is spreadsheet-based, but relies on databases that are not 100% compatible in terms of the information and measurements recorded.

The new system allows officials to categorize emissions data by economic sector and geographic region, down to the level of an individual firm or a single municipality. Indonesia has already expressed its interest in the system, and it is hoped that other countries will now follow Mexico’s lead and adopt a similar strategy for keeping track of their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Mexico’s population pyramid (age-sex diagram) for 2010

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Mar 102011

The population pyramid for Mexico in 2010 is shown below:

Mexico's population pyramid, 2010. Data: INEGI

What does this pyramid tell us about Mexico’s population and possible future trends?

The number of babies born during the last 20 years has been more or less equal for each 5-year period. This is despite a higher number of females in the age-bearing categories (15-45). These two statements, taken together, must imply that both birth rates (number of births/1,000 people) and fertility rates (number of children per female of child-bearing age) have fallen and continue to fall.

There are numerous implications for a population with a declining number of babies. Perhaps the most obvious is that fewer school places will be required in ten years time than are currently needed. In Mexico’s case, it is unlikely that school buildings will be closed (at least not in the short to mid-term) since many government-run schools currently house two independent school populations, one attending classes every morning, and the other attending classes in the afternoons.

The decline in babies also means that the average age of Mexico’s population continues to rise. The median age of Mexico’s 112.3 million inhabitants is now 26 years (i.e. half the population is older than 26 years, the other half is 26 years or younger).

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss additional insights into Mexico’s population dynamics and trends, and their implications for future development. An earlier post here includes a link to a pdf file showing Mexico’s population pyramid in 1990, and the predicted pyramid for 2050. The 2050 pyramid shows just how fast Mexico’s population will age if present trends continue.

Dec 102010

Mexico’s economy, the world’s 11th largest, is growing rapidly and predicted by many analysts to become the world’s fifth largest by 2050. It is not, therefore, surprising that, according to a recent report on key emerging markets from Spanish bank BBVA, investments in emerging markets are assuming more and more importance. However, the all-encompassing term “emerging market” covers a multitude of countries whose individual economies are incredibly diverse. It includes not only major economies such as those of China, India and Mexico, but also a host of tiny island states such as Grenada, Vanuatu and the Seychelles.



Economists have suggested various sub-groupings of emerging markets. One of the most commonly used in geography is BRIC, an acronym formed from the initial letters of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The term BRIC was first coined by  Jim O’Neill in a 2001 paper entitled “The World Needs Better Economic BRICs”. The concept of BRICs has become outdated as the four countries’ economies have diverged over the past decade. Any term comprised of country names will inevitably date fairly quickly, and become much less useful.

Now, BBVA has proposed the use of the term EAGLE to cover the world’s Emerging and Growth-Leading Economies. The member states of this exclusive EAGLEs club are:

  • China
  • India
  • Brazil
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Indonesia
  • Mexico
  • Turkey
  • Eqypt
  • Taiwan

These ten countries are each expected to contribute more to global economic growth than the average of G7 members. Combined, the ten EAGLEs are  expected to account for 50% of all global growth in the next 10 years.

A further eleven countries—Nigeria, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, Colombia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Argentina, Peru and the Philippines—are identified by BBVA as having the potential to join the EAGLEs if their economies grow more than expected.

The BRIC is dead! The EAGLEs are rising! Long live the EAGLEs!

Mexico’s economy and workforce are analyzed in chapters 14 to 20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…